I love weddings. Especially other people's.
Don't get me wrong, I had a ball at mine, too. But when you're the bride or groom, the experience is a little more intense, to say the least. At someone else's wedding, all you have to do is show up, dab your eyes, eat, drink, and dance. Who wouldn't love it?
Notice that I didn't mention buying presents.
This isn't because I'm a stingy person (I've given my husband $0.50 to swear to this if anyone asks). There's nothing better than a carefully selected, meaningful gift to celebrate and honor the beginning of a couple's new life together.
Half the time, though, what I end up buying is a toaster. Or cookie sheets. Or any of a dozen "useful," helpful everyday objects that will go into a drawer or cupboard somewhere, changing absolutely no one's life.
Looking for a gift that will literally change a life might seem like a tall order, but an organization called Changing the Present is dedicated to doing just that. At ChangingThePresent.org, the list of possible gifts is long and varied.
Is the bride a doctor? You can pay for a child's immunizations in her name. If the happy couple are animal lovers, they might be thrilled to know you've sponsored a barnyard, adopted a polar bear (not literally!), or helped the ASPCA care for a pet in their honor. You can buy books for a library, equip a playground, pay for 100 girls in the Congo to attend school, fund participation in a community empowerment program for a West African adolescent, or de-mine a sports field. Categories range from arts and culture to global warming to land mines to public broadcasting to women's issues.
Weddings aren't the only event you can commemorate through the site. You can give gifts for Father's Day or birthdays, graduations or baby showers. (Immunizing or vaccinating a child would be a wonderful baby shower gift, for instance.) With every gift, Changing the Present offers greeting cards for less than $4 that include a cover photo (you can choose from their stock or upload your own), a personal message to the recipient, and a photo and description of the donation made in their name.
If you like the idea of giving gifts that give back but you prefer a more do-it-yourself approach, you could make a donation directly to a charity that you feel would also appeal to the bride and groom. One charity the Fool is proud to support, through our Global Gains community, is PlayPumps International. This organization provides clean drinking water to communities in sub-Saharan Africa. The PlayPump system consists of a merry-go-round outfitted with a water pump and storage tank. When children play on the merry-go-round, they draw clean water up from underground into the tank. The water can then be accessed by a simple tap. This process can produce up to 370 gallons per hour.
There are hundreds of deserving charities worthy of consideration, of course, and listing them all would take approximately forever, but here are a few to get you started. The Humane Society of Louisiana still needs help recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and finding homes for the multitude of animals in its care. 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Grameen Foundation provides collateral-free loans to poor people, mostly women, enabling them to escape poverty and build better lives. Half the Sky provides nurturing care to orphaned children in China. And Save the Chimps has sanctuaries in Florida and New Mexico that allow survivors and descendants of the 1950s NASA "chimponauts," as well as other chimps who have been brought up in the laboratory system, to live out the rest of their lives safely and peacefully.
We know Fools are a generous bunch. How do we know? Our annual Foolanthropy campaign raised more than $330,000 in 2006 (its 10th year). That's not small change. (In fact, all the charities in the preceding paragraph except for Save the Chimps and PlayPumps have been Foolanthropy selections.) While our Foolanthropy drive may be over, our Global Gains initiative to help PlayPumps raise funds for 100 pumps in 100 days is in full swing. The summer season, with its wealth of celebrations, is a great time to consider giving gifts that have more impact on somebody's life than a deluxe four-slice sensotoaster.
Ellen Bowman has nothing against toasters.